A specter is haunting the earth ... the specter of the Machine. That collusion of capitalism, government and technology that enriches a few, impoverishes many and all the while, despoils the biosphere. We develop new technologies for profit and sometimes to improve our lives, but ignore the long term environmental and social costs of such development. The result is climate change, increasing wealth disparity, ocean acidification and species extinction at rates unseen since the demise of the dinosaurs. Our world is dying ... one community ... one coral reef ... one birdsong at a time.
Yet the blind parade of "progress" continues as we invent ever more powerful tools ... artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, synthetic biology ... Will we use these technological triumphs to patch up a broken paradise? Will we distinguish ourselves as a race of benign star-roving supermen? Or will our reptilian savagery extinguish us in war and ecological ruin? We ride the back of the many-headed technological beast and marvel at its power, but fail to note its swollen belly, pregnant with unwanted futures.
"We must hammer the Machine before it hammers us!" This should be the rallying cry of every creative mind on the planet, for what can be more important than social and environmental justice? Alas, the art of our times (especially in the realm of public art) has degenerated into vapid entertainment ... plagiarized ornaments decorating the sides of buildings ... cogs in the economic system that fuels the Machine (and therefore, accessories to its brutality). My allegiance is thus not to any contemporary movement, but to the past ... to highly individualistic artists like Bosch, Blake, Shitao and a score of others who had something to say about the human condition... artists who followed their private visions, even when it meant struggling long years in obscurity against the tides of esthetic fashion ...
Artistic development is slow and contrary to the opinions of historians, rarely unfolds in a linear fashion. It is in fact, circular ... When I was young my technique was flawless, my sense of design impeccable, my knowledge of art and life deep beyond measure. But the older I become ... the less I know. At 40 I knew half as much as when I was 20. At 60 I became embarrassingly stupid. By the time I turn 80 I will have forgotten everything I ever knew. The circle will be complete. I will be as ignorant and free as a child. Perhaps then I'll finally make some great art ...
My gods reside in wilderness ... those last remnants of Eden and sanctuaries for the world's non-human citizens, where name of slave and sultan is forgot, the Machine is but a distant rumor and nature lies in primitive splendor, unsullied by human greed. The greater the wildness of the land, the more removed it is from the sweat and roar of the city, the greater is my reverence. In wildness is the antidote for our technological hubris.
The two qualities of our species I hold in highest esteem are the creative power of the human mind and the vast capacity for love in the human heart. They are our best hope for a viable future and who knows ...? They may yet deliver us from the folly of our ways.
Hands cratered and scarred,
Spitting out dust from his dreams,
He carves the moonlight.
Charles Pilkey is a former geologist turned artist, writer and illustrator. He grew up on a farm in the green hills of the Carolina piedmont. There he was weaned on a steady diet of hard work and Sunday sermons. But he has traveled much and his sculptures lie scattered as weeds are scattered across three continents.